Who’S scared now? The intimidating resources of the home squad at Eton Dorney were measured in spectacular fashion yesterday when its last three crews made it 13 finalists from 13 boats. All three won their semi-finals, none making a more resounding statement than the men’s four, whose rivals from Australia were obliged to repent of a recent claim that their front-running success at Munich in June had “scared the hell” out of the British.
the home boat shadowed them from the start, keeping within around half a
length and well clear of the pack. Through the final 500, slowly but
inexorably, the British wore down that advantage and – to noisy delirium
in the stands – nosed ahead in the final yards. However narrow the
margin, it was a clean punch, and one landed in a faster time than that
set by the Americans in the other semi-final.
The stage is now set for a decisive showdown in tomorrow’s final, when Andrew Triggs Hodge, Pete Reed, Tom James and Alex Gregory will be hoping to extend a British monopoly extending through the last three Olympics.
Telling markers were also laid down in the other semi-finals. After a slow start in the lightweight double sculls, Sophie Hosking and Kat Copland made a sustained challenge to run down Greece in front of the exultant stands. The favourites perhaps went off too hard this time, ultimately all out even to hold second, but the young home pairing are palpably growing in belief.
Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter, meanwhile, reiterated their return to form in the lightweight double. The defending champions once again rose to the big occasion, hanging tough in a gruelling battle with their rivals from France. “We wanted a tough heat, and we got that with the Kiwis,” Purchase said. “Then we wanted the French in the semis. Those are the biggest crews in the event, and we’ve beaten them, so we’re in a good place.”
Of the three crews who actually contested their finals yesterday, however, only the men’s lightweight four ever landed a blow. Bill Lucas and Sam Townsend were fifth in the double sculls – where Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan cut down Italy late for New Zealand – while the women’s eight were soon toiling in filling the same berth behind a phenomenal United States crew, now unbeaten since 2006. The favourites led throughout before containing a plucky late challenge from Canada.
“I just felt so much power,” said the winning coxswain, Mary Whipple. “We got into a crushing rhythm, it was relentless. The last 300 was a little rough, but we did what we needed to do. I am in awe of what my team-mates can endure.”
An equally invincible air precedes the big home hopes today, Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins in their double sculls final. Grainger has come away from three consecutive Olympics with silver but is unbeaten in her new partnership with Watkins. Certainly morale in the camp could scarcely be higher, with the women’s solo sculls a real aberration tomorrow. As the only event without a British entry, it remains the only final without a British interest.